It happens to just about all of us. We enable the “out of office” notification on our email client, pack our bags and head off on a well-deserved vacation. Only we never really leave the office. There’s still the barrage of emails and phone calls that come through and our phone is relentlessly buzzing and beeping, holding us back from enjoying our vacation.
As you prepare for your next vacation have hope! Follow these simple rules to ensure a happy holiday and a productive return to work.
1. Setup the right out of office message
Too often I am hit with an out of office auto reply that, while letting me know the person I want to contact is on holidays, I’m also given the option to call them. For example, “I’m out of the office on leave until January 28th. If urgent I can be reached on [phone number]”. Wrong. Your on your vacation. Vacation is time away from your work. Unless you’re a doctor or work in a life and death type role, there is seldom a true “urgent” situation. Using an out of office message like this gives people the option to make their own call on how urgent something is. Your sense of urgency and theirs will not be the same. Especially when it comes to your vacation. Take this one step further and explicitly state that you will not be reachable via email or phone. Your out of office message also should not say you will be checking email occasionally and will respond when possible. No. Anyone that gets your out of office message should understand to not expect a reply until after you return. Be sure to set the right expectations regarding when you will reply, too. Include in your message that even though you will be back at work on some certain day, to allow for additional time for you to get back up to speed and catch up with what will likely be a very, very full inbox. For example, here is the out of office message I am using.
Hi, and thank you for taking the time to email me.
I am currently on holidays. I will be back online from Friday the 27th of December. Should your email require a reply, please allow some time as there will be a lot of emails to wade through.
2. Let the world know
Often it’s not enough to just leave it up to your out of office message to let people know you’re going to be away for a while. You may be the only point of contact relating to certain aspects of the business. It is extremely important that you let the main people you deal with, both colleagues and customers, know that you will be away. It’s best to do this in person if possible. If you send an email with this information it can easily be missed or overlooked. If you’re standing in front of someone telling them you’ll be away there is much more chance this information will stick. Letting people know ahead of time also gives them the opportunity to work out what they might do if they need you. You can also work this out for them and simply let them know who to contact in what situations, what situations will need to wait until you return, and what situations don’t need any action.
3. No email. Seriously.
If your out of office message says you won’t be checking email (which hopefully it will) then you have a responsibility to not check your email! Consider this… your out of office message says you will not be checking email until you get back, but suddenly one of your colleagues or customers receives an email from you. You have instantly set the expectation with that person (and whoever they talk to) that your are indeed checking your email. Any influence your out of office message once had is instantly lost. Not just for this vacation, but for any future vacation. Even if you don’t reply or send any work-related email while on your vacation, you must still avoid your inbox like the plague! Now consider that you’ve been on holidays and have occasionally read through a few emails and one of them relates to one of your customers. Even if you can withhold from replying to or calling someone about it you’ll have knowledge of the contents of the email and it will consume parts of your brain that should be on vacation, parts that should be relaxing, parts that should not be thinking about work. Then, when you get back to the office and there is talk about that customer you will have background knowledge on them or the situation. Too much background. People will know you’ve been keeping up on your email while away and then assume from that point on that whenever you’re on vacation you can still be reached. No email. Seriously.
The bottom line to having a true vacation is to set the right expectations and then stick to them. It may be hard to resist the habit of “doing email”, so leave your phone out of sight. In fact, while on vacation disable email on your phone altogether! You’ll thank yourself later. Trust me.
Do you have a tip for avoiding email while on vacation? Share in the comments below.